"The Bride of Modern Italy" was published anonymously in London Magazine in 1824. The character of Clorindia in this short story is likely based on a woman Mary and her husband Percy Shelley met in 1820, Emilia Viviani, who would soon enter into a marriage arranged by her parents (Robinson 376). This is one of the more lighthearted of Mary Shelley’s short stories.
The reader enters the story in the midst of Clorinda Saviani’s courtship with her friend Teresa’s brother, Giacomo de’ Tolmei. The two young women live in a convent in Rome, Italy. Clorinda has been put there until her parents are able to find an honorable man who will marry her, despite her small dowry. However, Clorinda has other ideas for her future.
Teresa teases Clorinda for praying that Giacomo will come for a visit, saying that she changes the saint she prays to according to the name of her current lover. When Giacomo arrives, he brings a draft of the marriage proposal he plans to deliver to Clorinda’s father and his own. Both parties believe that neither father will accept the proposal because of the 12,000-crown dowry. Clorinda’s father will not want to give so high a dowry and Giacomo’s father will not accept such a low dowry. The narrator tells us that Clorinda has a secret plan to escape the convent, should her father reject Giacomo’s marriage proposal.
On Giacomo’s next visit, he comes with bad news. He tells Clorinda and Teresa that his proposal has been refused because Clorinda’s parents have arranged for her to be married to another man. Clorinda tells the others about her plan of escape: giving the Superior a cake laced with opium, taking her key, and making a copy of it. Teresa and Giacomo dismiss the idea because it would sacrifice Clorinda’s honor.
Instead, Giacomo sets out to speak with him father in Sienna to see if he can help Giacomo find a way to marry Clorinda. While he is gone, he arranges for his friend, an English artist named Marcott Alleyn, to visit the girls. Though Alleyn is initially skeptical of the institution, soon everyone there loves him due to his generous giving of gifts and attention. Clorinda is impressed by him as well and forgets all about Giacomo. Clorinda feels some guilt about her changed affections and she begins to avoid her friend Teresa because of this.
Before long, Clorinda admits to Alleyn that she loves him. Clorinda repeats her plan to escape from the convent, but Alleyn also rejects this idea. As Alleyn is leaving the convent, Giacomo return and tells Alleyn that he was unsuccessful in convincing his father that he should to marry Clorinda. Additionally, Giacomo has heard that Clorinda’s future husband has arrived in Rome. The friends agree to meet back at the convent the next day, but Alleyn does not show up. After meeting with Giacomo, Clorinda writes a letter to Alleyn telling him that she has come to detest Giacomo in his absence.
Clorinda’s parents come to visit her and introduce her to the man they want her to marry, Romani. During the visit, Clorinda’s mother confronts her, saying that the letter she wrote to Alleyn was intercepted. She gives her daughter an ultimatum: marry Romani or live under constant supervision in a convent for the rest of her life. Clorinda agrees to marry Romani, but holds onto the hope that Alleyn will rescue her from her situation or at least help her get in contact with a former lover. Suspecting that Alleyn will not assist her, she writes to former lover a letter herself, which is intercepted and given to her parents. Clorinda becomes extremely distressed.
The Superior visits Allyen at home and invites him to visit the convent. He is initially hesitant, but ultimately decides to stop by. When he arrives he finds an upset Giacomo leaving. Giacomo informs him that Clorinda has married Romani and left for Spoleto. Giacomo tells Alleyn he knows about the affair he and Clorinda had while he was away in Sienna and thoroughly berates him. Alleyn, who is only seventeen and had never been in love before meeting Clorinda, says that he will go back to his painting.
Connections to Shelley's Life
This story is most likely based on a real woman whom Mary and Percy met in Pisa, Italy in 1820, named Emilia Viviani (Markley 102). The young woman was to be kept in a convent until her parents could find a husband for her, though she was not allowed to be part of this decision. While Mary was disgusted by the traditional arranged marriages of Italy, Percy became infatuated with Emilia. He wrote two poems about her: "To Emilia Viviani" and “Epipsychidion” (1821). The character of Alleyn is based in part on him (Markley 105). The short story was written at the same time Mary was working on her novel The Last Man (1826). Mary’s critical portrayal of Percy in this story is balanced by her idealize portrait of him as Adrian in this novel. Percy’s relationship with Emilia caused further problems in the Shelley’s marriage, which was already exacerbated by the death of Percy’s first wife Harriet, the deaths of Mary and Percy’s children Clara and William, as well as being forced to be mediators between Mary’s stepsister Claire Clairmont and her former lover, author Lord Byron in regards to their daughter Allegra. It is likely that Mary suspected that Emilia’s motives were not innocent, just as Clorinda’s are not. It was also recorded by Claire that Emilia really did change the saint she prayed to based on her current love interest (Markley 105).
In this short story, the narrator address the reader directly in order to parody gothic settings and sensibilities, which were popular at the time (Markley 104). This is done particularly with the description of the convent, which is often a scene of gothic occurrences. This convention is turned on its head, as Mary seeks to portray the convent as dull rather than mysterious or scary.
Markley, A. A. ""Laughing That I May Not Weep": Mary Shelley's Short Fiction and Her Novels." Keats-Shelley Journal 46 (1997): 97-124. Print.
Shelley, Mary. "The Bride of Modern Italy." Mary Shelley: Collected Tales and Stories. Ed. Charles Robinson. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 1976. 32-42. Print.